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A Bookworm’s Summer School: 8 Nonfiction Reads That Will Make You Smarter

Sarah Woodruff is an Ed/Lib Marketing Manager at Simon & Schuster. She long ago embraced the art of reading multiple books in a variety of genres at once, and is always eager to talk about them. You can find her at @swoodswords.

We live in a dynamic world that’s constantly in flux, spouting new technologies, trends, revelations, and opportunities on any given day, leaving my inquiring mind hyperaware that it lacks the time and level of expertise to investigate and understand them all on a detailed scale. The good news is that journalists have written books on an array of innovative and contemporary topics that are easily digestible and entertaining for the average person. Reap the benefits of talented truth tellers’ collecting information from well-informed sources with these eight captivating and important reads.


I Contain Multitudes
by Ed Yong

My friends may tell me to shut up about them, but I can’t: microbes are everywhere, and they play significant roles in important functions from altering genes to curing diseases. The most exciting part: so much is still unknown, and the possibilities are endless. This book is the gateway to a rewarding obsession that makes me feel like I’m in the know about a cutting-edge global investigation. My understanding of microbes prior to reading I CONTAIN MULTITUDES was little to none, but Yong breaks down the science into digestible pieces using real-world examples and glimpses of future possibilities.

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I Contain Multitudes
Ed Yong

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The Future Is History
by Masha Gessen

This book is heavier than the others on this list—both physically and mentally—but I think a certain breadth and depth is necessary to adequately cover this subject matter and allow readers to emerge with an understanding of both what it’s like to live under this type of regime and the theories and consequences behind it. Tracing the evolution of Russia’s political hierarchy, Gessen moves us along the paths of four people willing to share their stories, illustrating an invasive culture of control and fear and evaluating hopes for the future.

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The Future Is History
Masha Gessen

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A Bookworm’s Summer School: 8 Nonfiction Reads That Will Make You Smarter

By Sarah Woodruff | July 12, 2019

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Bad Blood
by John Carreyrou

I’ll call this my fastest time between procuring a book and reading it: first came my coworker’s weekend Facebook post raving about the book, then my enthusiastic comment, and finally my Monday morning arrival to find the book on my desk. I pushed everything else on my TBR to the side and finished it within three days. The story of Elizabeth Holmes and her start-up, Theranos, is insane, unbelievable, and terrifying—both in her tactics and risky endeavors and in the length of time it all went undetected. The book reads like a thriller, and Carreyrou’s skill at explaining complex issues involving a huge cast of characters is impressive.

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Bad Blood
John Carreyrou

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A Bookworm’s Summer School: 8 Nonfiction Reads That Will Make You Smarter

By Sarah Woodruff | July 12, 2019

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The Spider Network
by David Enrich

Topics from this book randomly came up on a recent first date; let’s just say remembering this book exists was the best part of the night, though I did manage to impress my date with my LIBOR knowledge. What is LIBOR, you ask? It’s the focal point of a global monetary scheme set around stock market trading floors. Does that sound too dense and mathematical for someone who just wants an exciting, fast-paced read? Trust me, it’s not. Enrich captures the climate, implications, and takedown of the math genius who inadvertently ignited a perfect financial storm.

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The Spider Network
David Enrich

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A Bookworm’s Summer School: 8 Nonfiction Reads That Will Make You Smarter

By Sarah Woodruff | July 12, 2019

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Blockchain: The Next Everything
by Stephen P. Williams

CryptoKitties going for over $100,000? Customized Dapps that enable innovation from voting structures to providing aid? As Williams says, “Like hip-hop, ultimate Frisbee, and LSD before it, blockchain is clearly a culture as much as a thing.” There’s much more to blockchain than playing host to the Bitcoin craze. Williams does a great job of looking at this new technology from multiple angles, reminding us that blockchain, while offering groundbreaking opportunities and decentralization, is still susceptible to the whims of the people using it. This book excites me for the same reasons microbes do: the newness of the platform and the ability to watch it unravel and change existing structures.

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Blockchain: The Next Everything
Stephen P. Williams

An experienced tech writer fully explains blockchain technology and how it will radically transform the world as we know it in this accessible, reader-friendly, illuminating guide.

What is blockchain? Why does everyone from tech experts to business moguls to philanthropists believe it is a paradigm-shifting technology, bound to revolutionize society as significantly as the internet? Indeed, why is blockchain touted as The Next Everything?

In this deft, fascinating, and easy-to-digest introduction to one of the most important innovations of recent times, Stephen P. Williams answers these questions, revealing how cryptocurrencies like bitcoin are just one example among dozens of transformative applications that this relatively new technology makes possible. He interprets the complexity into digestible anecdotes, metaphors, and straightforward descriptions for readers who don’t know tech, and explains all of blockchain’s most important aspects: why this so-called digital ledger is unhackable and unchangeable; how its distributed nature may transfer power from central entities like banks, government, and corporations to ordinary citizens around the world; and what its widespread use will mean for society as a whole.

Taking us on a dazzlingly vivid tour through the systems predicted to soon underpin economics, politics, global trade, science, art, and numerous other aspects of our everyday lives, Blockchain: The Next Everything is a truly extraordinary journey into our future.

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A Bookworm’s Summer School: 8 Nonfiction Reads That Will Make You Smarter

By Sarah Woodruff | July 12, 2019

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Three Women
by Lisa Taddeo

Get ready to reevaluate everything you thought you knew about desire and relationships. Taddeo’s ability to capture a life is extraordinary, stemming from the amount of years she’s spent closely observing three women at various life stages and circumstances. One is a mother who turns from a passionless marriage to an affair with an old flame; another is a high schooler caught up in a relationship with her teacher; a third is a co-owner of a restaurant whose husband enjoys seeing her in the bedroom with other men and women. This isn’t the type of book I normally gravitate toward, but when my colleagues spent our weeklong conference in Seattle buzzing about it, I couldn’t resist diving in. Verdict: I’m so glad I listened to them, as this book will stay with me for a long time.

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Three Women
Lisa Taddeo

“Extraordinary…A nonfiction literary masterpiece…I can’t remember the last time a book affected me as profoundly as Three Women.” —Elizabeth Gilbert

“This is one of the most riveting, assured, and scorchingly original debuts I’ve ever read.” —Dave Eggers

“[An] instant feminist classic...Utterly engrossing...Game-changing.” —O, The Oprah Magazine

Desire as we’ve never seen it before: a riveting true story about the sex lives of three real American women, based on nearly a decade of reporting.

It thrills us and torments us. It controls our thoughts, destroys our lives, and it’s all we live for. Yet we almost never speak of it. And as a buried force in our lives, desire remains largely unexplored—until now. Over the past eight years, journalist Lisa Taddeo has driven across the country six times to embed herself with ordinary women from different regions and backgrounds. The result, Three Women, is the deepest nonfiction portrait of desire ever written and one of the most anticipated books of the year.

We begin in suburban Indiana with Lina, a homemaker and mother of two whose marriage, after a decade, has lost its passion. She passes her days cooking and cleaning for a man who refuses to kiss her on the mouth, protesting that “the sensation offends” him. To Lina’s horror, even her marriage counselor says her husband’s position is valid. Starved for affection, Lina battles daily panic attacks. When she reconnects with an old flame through social media, she embarks on an affair that quickly becomes all-consuming.

In North Dakota we meet Maggie, a seventeen-year-old high school student who finds a confidant in her handsome, married English teacher. By Maggie’s account, supportive nightly texts and phone calls evolve into a clandestine physical relationship, with plans to skip school on her eighteenth birthday and make love all day; instead, he breaks up with her on the morning he turns thirty. A few years later, Maggie has no degree, no career, and no dreams to live for. When she learns that this man has been named North Dakota’s Teacher of the Year, she steps forward with her story—and is met with disbelief by former schoolmates and the jury that hears her case. The trial will turn their quiet community upside down.

Finally, in an exclusive enclave of the Northeast, we meet Sloane—a gorgeous, successful, and refined restaurant owner—who is happily married to a man who likes to watch her have sex with other men and women. He picks out partners for her alone or for a threesome, and she ensures that everyone’s needs are satisfied. For years, Sloane has been asking herself where her husband’s desire ends and hers begins. One day, they invite a new man into their bed—but he brings a secret with him that will finally force Sloane to confront the uneven power dynamics that fuel their lifestyle.

Based on years of immersive reporting, and told with astonishing frankness and immediacy, Three Women is a groundbreaking portrait of erotic longing in today’s America, exposing the fragility, complexity, and inequality of female desire with unprecedented depth and emotional power. It is both a feat of journalism and a triumph of storytelling, brimming with nuance and empathy, that introduces us to three unforgettable women—and one remarkable writer—whose experiences remind us that we are not alone.

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MENTIONED IN:

8 Best Book Club Books I’ve Read So Far This Year

By Hannah Schaffer | October 1, 2019

A Bookworm’s Summer School: 8 Nonfiction Reads That Will Make You Smarter

By Sarah Woodruff | July 12, 2019

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Everybody Lies
by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

Stephens-Davidowitz realized our truest selves emerge over our Internet browsers, and that the questions and phrases we Google say more about what we’re going through than we might admit out loud to a friend—so he decided to write a book about it. The many strange and surprising statistics revealed here will both entertain and provide deeper context for the fluctuating elements that shape us. In today’s world, we worry about who’s collecting our data and what it’s being used for, but what does this data look like, and what is it really telling us?

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Everybody Lies
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

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A Bookworm’s Summer School: 8 Nonfiction Reads That Will Make You Smarter

By Sarah Woodruff | July 12, 2019

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American Kingpin
by Nick Bilton

My friend and I were arguing about the Dark Web on the subway recently, and I can’t help but find it amusing that the very fact of its acknowledged existence defeats its quest for secrecy. But I’m okay with that if it means the world gets to spend time with this crazy book that tells the story of Ross Ulbricht, the young programmer who built the Silk Road. Here, anything can be traded without regulation—which in self-fulfilling Dark Web terms means a slippery slope spiraling down to hitmen and Feds and two-year manhunts.

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American Kingpin
Nick Bilton

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