Summer Beach Read Bestsellers

School's out and the days are getting longer, warmer and lazier -- and that means Official Summer is right around the corner. Whether you’ve got a stack of books dating back to last fall yet to read, a crowded digital bookshelf with a dozen titles you forgot you purchased, or you’ve let things slide shamefully and there isn’t an unread book within a mile of you, the time has come for some fresh reads.

When your summer reading list needs refreshment, a trip to the bookstore, a session at the online store of your choice, or a workout for your library card is in order. Whatever your preferred way to find new books to read, here’s a little inspiration: Five bestsellers that made that hallowed list, not through any elaborate means other than the simple tactic of being very, very good.

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Shoe Dog, by Phil Knight
Shoe Dog, by Phil Knight.

Memoirs from successful businesspeople are often crammed full of confirmation bias; after all, they’re rich and their ideas sold well, so they must be geniuses. That makes a lot of such memoirs dull slogs, but Knight has a fascinating story precisely because the success of Nike took so darn long to come off. Launched in 1964 under the name Blue Ribbon Sports, Knight purposefully ran the company on the edge of collapse for years in the name of research and development, had contempt for the marketing that would eventually make Nike an iconic brand, and was a severe underdog fighting against the behemoth that was Adidas at the time. Knight’s book is a fascinating story that reminds us that humongous companies like Nike don’t simply flash into being when a brilliant insight is combined with a mercurial venture capitalist, they take decades of work and even failure to achieve true success.

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All Summer Long, by Dorothea Benton Frank
All Summer Long, by Dorothea Benton Frank.

Frank’s written one of those novels that at first glance doesn’t seem like it will be all that interesting: Affluent New York power couple Olivia and Seymour (she’s a high-end interior designer, he’s a college professor) pull up stakes and move back to Nick’s childhood South Carolina home on Sullivan’s Island, seeking a quieter, slower life. Olivia, however, is concealing serious financial difficulties that make the move the worst possible decision, and their even richer friends keep dragging them into adventures that only the 1% can even contemplate. The nouns in those sentences might set some teeth grinding -- another story about super-rich people, really? -- but Frank’s purpose isn’t affluence porn, but a story that explores a and how it navigates problems, and the nature and challenges of being friends after a certain age. That she does so while using beautiful language and tracing Olivia’s slow but definite evolution makes it a wholly satisfying book, the sort you’re sad has ended when you turn the final page

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A Hero of France, by Alan Furst
A Hero of France, by Alan Furst.

Furst is well-known to his ardent fans and hasn’t lost a step with this new story set during World War II, directly after the fall of France. The leader of a cell of the French Resistance is charged with smuggling a downed British pilot past the occupying Nazi forces and into Spain, but this simple goal is complicated by the arrival of a brilliant and ruthless Nazi officer who has been specifically assigned to uncover and crush the cell. Taut and tense, the story sizzles but the true stars are the characters who embody the resistance cell, led by uber-competent Mathieu. The ragtag team includes a teenage girl, a stuffy professor, and other colorful figures, representing a sort of historical Ocean’s 11 of heroic badasses risking their lives in order to make things hot for the Nazis. And who can’t get behind anything that makes life worse for Nazis?

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Valiant Ambition, by Nathaniel Philbrick
Valiant Ambition, by Nathaniel Philbrick.

Philbrick is one of our most accomplished and most readable historians, and unlike some celebrity historians churning out books he does serious work. In this fascinating account, Philbrick explores the little-known story of the relationship between two men who have come to represent the Alpha and Omega of the American Revolution: George Washington, the wise leader, and Benedict Arnold, the despised traitor. Philbrick’s deep dive into not just the facts of Arnold’s eventual betrayal (including the fact that he was bankrupted by his efforts on behalf of the new country and Congress essentially refused to reimburse him) but the personalities of the two men and their personal relationship -- a relationship which somewhat blinded Washington to Arnold’s deficits -- is absolutely absorbing. The book will serve as a reminder that nothing is simple when it comes to war, politics, or history, and there are always levels to be explored.

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The Gene, by Siddhartha Mukherjee
The Gene, by Siddhartha Mukherjee.

The modern world will be increasingly influenced and even controlled by our own genetic code. While still primitive, breakthroughs and advances are happening every day that make it possible to analyze our own genetics, predict diseases, and possibly even make adjustments that could have a profound effect not only on individual lives but on the future itself. That means its incumbent on all of us to have a better understanding of how genes work, and Pulitzer Prize-winner Mukherjee (The Emperor of All Maladies) is the perfect person to do it. Written with his typical humor and love of puns, The Gene is part history of the science and part introductory class. Accessible, fun, and informative, it’s one of those books that everyone should read because if everyone was just a little smarter about the science, the world would be a much better place.