Skip to main content

Shelf life: Books of interest to Rotarians

Perhaps all this reading about reading has you in the mood for a good book. We’ve put together a list of books published in the past year which might be of particular interest to Rotarians. Choose from nonfiction and novels, global and local angles, writers new and established. Dig in.


  • It’s Better Than It Looks: Reasons for Optimism in an Age of Fear

    By Gregg Easterbrook

    Overwhelmed by all the doom and gloom in the news? Prepare to feel relieved: According to Easterbrook, the world is getting better in almost every way, whether you’re talking about crime, discrimination, pollution, or disease.


  • Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress

    By Steven Pinker 

    And why is the world getting better? Pinker credits the 18th-century European intellectual movement known as the Enlightenment, which sought to replace old superstitions with reason, rationality, and empirical investigation (i.e., science). In the face of rising tribalism and demagoguery around the world, Pinker reaffirms those values.

  • The Wisdom of Wolves: Lessons from the Sawtooth Pack 

    By Jim Dutcher and Jamie Dutcher

    Wolves don’t deserve their status as the villains of fairy tales, say the Dutchers, who raised a pack of the animals in a 25-acre enclosure. Over six years, they documented characteristics in the wolves including kindness, intelligence, sociability, playfulness, curiosity, and compassion. In their book, they look to wolf behavior for inspiration about how we humans could treat members of our own pack better.

  • Welcome to Lagos

    By Chibundu Onuzo

    The 21st century has seen a proliferation of literary talent from Nigeria. Onuzo, who moved to the UK when she was 14, is one such talent; her first novel was published when she was only 21. Her second is the story of an army officer who opts to desert rather than kill civilians, then makes his way to the Dickensian megacity of Lagos, where he finds himself in a different kind of trouble.

  • The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border

    By Francisco Cantú

    The southern U.S. border is in the news these days, but how much do we really know about it? Cantú knows a great deal. His grandmother immigrated from Mexico, and he was raised in the American South-west, where his mother was a park ranger. Cantú joined the Border Patrol and learned to track people through the desert. His book offers a grim firsthand take on the job, the situation, and his fellow agents.


  • The Poisoned City: Flint’s Water and the American Urban Tragedy

    By Anna Clark

    Flint, Michigan, has become the poster child for water quality issues and failure of government in the United States. Clark tells the full story of the tragedy that left countless children poisoned by lead and a city in limbo as it struggles with aging infrastructure, poor decisions, and neglect.

  • Educated: A Memoir

    By Tara Westover

    Most of us take education for granted, but Westover never saw the inside of a classroom until she was nearly an adult. Brought up in Idaho by survivalist parents, she knew little about the outside world. When one of her brothers went to college, Westover decided she wanted to go too and taught herself enough math, grammar, and science to pass the ACT. In college, a whole new world opened before her.


  • The China Mission: George Marshall’s Unfinished War, 1945-1947

    By Daniel Kurtz-Phelan

    At the end of World War II, General George Marshall had a job to do: preventing World War III. As China split into capitalist Taiwan and the communist mainland, another war was a real possibility. For over a year, Marshall traveled back and forth, negotiating with Mao Zedong, Chiang Kai-shek, and other leaders until finally achieving the uneasy peace that has endured until today.


  • Pandemic 1918: Eyewitness Accounts from the Greatest Medical Holocaust in Modern History

    By Catharine Arnold

    What killed more than 50 million people in just two years in the 20th century? The flu. As the world marks the 100th anniversary of this pandemic, Arnold recounts the full global story of the crisis.


  • A Place for Us

    By Fatima Farheen Mirza 

    In this novel, an Indian mother and father struggle to hold their family together after moving to the United States, where their children choose paths the couple had never anticipated. It’s a story both refreshingly new and as old as America itself, a place where people have always come looking for a better life, then finding that it is not the life they expected.


  • The Unwomanly Face of War: An Oral History of Women in World War II

    By Svetlana Alexievich (translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky)

    Alexievich, a Nobel Prize-winning writer, has spent her career telling stories of the people caught in war’s machinery. For her new book, she traveled to more than 100 Russian villages to interview women who fought in World War II. The stories she uncovers are rich, humane, and honest.

  • The Overstory

    By Richard Powers 

    The power of trees is at the heart of this novel, the 12th by Powers, a National Book Award winner. A group of strangers are drawn together by strange tree-related events, only to find that they must fight to save the last few acres of untouched forest in America.


  • Warlight 

    By Michael Ondaatje

    This atmospheric novel by the author of The English Patient takes place after World War II ends and follows the story of two children whose parents move from England to Singapore, leaving them to be cared for by a mysterious figure known as The Moth. Years later, the mother returns without the father — or any explanation — sending the son on a lifelong quest for answers.


  • The End of Epidemics: The Looming Threat to Humanity and How to Stop It

    By Jonathan D. Quick with Bronwyn Fryer

    As Rotarians know, infectious disease remains a scourge across the globe, and the risk of future epidemics is unsettlingly high. Quick looks at the eradication of smallpox and the successes and failures with SARS, AIDS, Ebola, and other epidemics. Drawing lessons from these efforts, he proposes a course of action he says can end epidemics before they begin.

  • The Poison Squad: One Chemist’s Single-Minded Crusade for Food Safety at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

    By Deborah Blum 

    In the United States, we take it for granted that the food we buy at the grocery store won’t make us ill. But this state of affairs didn’t happen by accident. Blum, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and science writer, tells the story of a group of chemists, led by Harvey Washington Wiley, who worked at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the late 1800s and were assigned the task of making sure our food was safe to eat. It’s a luxury many in the world still don’t have.

  • The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life

    By David Quammen

    Normally, we think of evolution as a direct line running from the first bacteria in the primordial soup to ourselves. But it’s not that simple. In Quammen’s new book, he recounts the way many genes — including 8 percent of the human genome — have been transferred from species to species by viral infection. It’s a fascinating look at one of the most shocking discoveries in evolution.

  • Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey into the Heart of America

    By James Fallows and Deborah Fallows

    For five years, the Fallowses traveled across the United States in a small airplane, visiting places that don’t usually get a lot of attention — towns such as Dodge City, Kansas; Eastport, Maine; and Duluth, Minnesota. Though these towns face economic and social problems, the authors found that residents are coming up with innovative local solutions.

  • What School Could Be: Insights and Inspiration from Teachers across America

    By Ted Dintersmith 

    Dintersmith, an expert on innovation, embarked on a tour of America’s schools to tell them how to prepare their students for the future. To his surprise, he found that teachers across the country were already doing this in ways he had never imagined. Taking some of their best ideas, he offers new proposals for what a school can be and do.

  • The House of Broken Angels

    By Luis Alberto Urrea 

    In this epic, Big Angel, the patriarch of a Mexican-American family, is preparing a party to commemorate his own demise as well as his mother’s recent death. This is the story of a family that spans a border, and of what that means for those who are divided by that border.  


  • Glass House: The 1% Economy and the Shattering of the All-American Town

    By Brian Alexander

    Lancaster, Ohio, is a town built around the Anchor Hocking Glass Co., which once employed more than 5,000 people. The company and the town itself are now shadows of their former selves. Alexander tells a riveting story of how they got that way, and what it all means for the people who live there.