We at the good ship Zócalo are setting sail for another summer of intellectual exploration. As always, to aid us on this important voyage, we’ve recruited an intrepid crew of friends and contributors and asked them to recommend their favorite (mostly) nonfiction titles.
The 12 books on this list traverse turning points in history, and navigate the headwinds of the future—with a port stop or two at Whimsy Island along the way. With subject matter ranging from Buddhist meditation for the age of anxiety to Africa’s central place in world history, our crew’s selections are sure to steer you boldly into a summer rich with ideas. But no need to look for an “X” to mark the spot on this treasure map—we promise a cruise through these picks will be a reward all its own.
Shop Zócalo’s 2022 summer reading list through our independent bookstore partners:
Pulitzer-Prize Winning Journalist and Founder of the Haitian Times
President of the Goldhirsh Foundation
Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know
by Adam Grant
Think Again, which I have now purchased for my team at work, provides compelling stories and data about the power of changing one’s mind and being open to revisiting prior assumptions. Grant’s tone and humor, balanced by sound research, invite the reader to rethink and unlearn—skills that are critical to remaining adaptive, curious, and humble amid the chaos of the modern chatter of rigidly held beliefs. A great guide for thinking and living.
Director of the Arizona State University Art Museum
Take Back Your Mind: Buddhist Advice for Anxious Times
by Lodro Rinzler
This is the fourth book by my meditation teacher, who writes about concepts of love, surrender, and service in ways that are accessible and actionable. These last few years have produced stress and anxiety brought on by attempts to navigate the pandemic and to persevere toward greater social justice. This book was exceptionally helpful in reminding me of the false “trap of doubt,” which prevents me from tending to my own basic goodness, letting go of causes beyond my control and moving forward with open-heartedness and compassion.
Attorney General of California
A Promised Land
by President Obama
If you have not yet read A Promised Land, do so immediately. More than just learning about the life of our former president, you’ll find yourself thinking over questions about morality, our political system, and the future of the American Dream.
Humor, Seriously: Why Humor Is a Secret Weapon in Business and Life (And how anyone can harness it. Even you.)
by Jennifer Aaker and Naomi Bagdonas
I highly recommend Humor, Seriously to anyone who cares about human behavior, leadership, or enjoying life as a human. The 2021 book, by Stanford professor Jennifer Aaker and stand-up comedian Naomi Bagdonas, chronicles all the ways in which levity (in many forms) makes people more creative, more productive, more likeable, and more respected. The best part is that the book itself is actually laugh-out-loud funny. It walks the walk, citing good research and providing practical tips—without ever taking itself too seriously.
Essayist, Poet, Playwright, and Film Producer
by Lucy Ives
Through idiosyncratic scenes, dry wit, time travel, and keen observations, Ives’ work reveals that some of our friends do indeed date demons, that superficial ideals of professionalism and the dialogue therein shape so much of daily life. Jump into the world of Lucy Ives and discover a place where society reveals itself as the business casual freak show it truly is.
Vice President of Development, LA’s BEST and Zócalo Trustee
Social Justice Parenting: How to Raise Compassionate, Anti-Racist, Justice-Minded Kids in an Unjust World
by Dr. Traci Baxley
In Social Justice Parenting, Dr. Baxley suggests something that resonated with me—that parenting is a form of activism. Many of us who have influence in raising kids are actively committed to social change and are on our own personal journey toward antiracism. This book encouraged me to take a fresh look at my responsibility as a parent. It offers a guide to doing this work with family, to nurture a better future for and by our kids.
2022 Zócalo Public Square Book Prize Winner
Essential Labor: Mothering for Social Change
by Angela Garbes
Angela Garbes has given us the definitive explanation for something we all share: the sense that something is not right about our society’s treatment of parenting. Garbes shows us what’s broken about the exploitation of care and reveals how what’s essential about mothering can fix not just family life, but society.
2022 Zócalo Public Square Poetry Prize Winner
The Trayvon Generation
by Elizabeth Alexander
In this collection of lyrical essays, poet Elizabeth Alexander, who spoke to and for the nation as inaugural poet in 2009, turns her attention to the “American nightmare of racism and racist violence.” Examining Confederate monuments, poems, history textbooks, visual art, and music videos with equal care and attention, Alexander moves toward the universal through the particular. A portion of a painting or a teenager’s exuberant dance might lead to explorations of white supremacy, or to meditations on Black resilience and Black joy. As beautiful as it is heartbreaking, The Trayvon Generation strikes me as the kind of book only a poet could write.
Cris B. Liban
Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Chief Sustainability Officer and American Society of Civil Engineers Fellow
The Rightful Place of Science: Infrastructure in the Anthropocene
by Mikhail Chester and Braden Allenby
This book offers a fresh perspective on how game-changing practitioners should think about the future of the built environment. Chester and Allenby show how the design of sustainable, resilient, and timeless infrastructure can manifest in transformative societal benefits and outcomes. Get ready!
Incoming President and CEO, Library Foundation of Los Angeles
Today a Woman Went Mad in the Supermarket
by Hilma Wolitzer
This new collection of short stories by Hilma Wolitzer, mother of author Meg Wolitzer, features more than a dozen stories, most of which were initially published in the 1960s and 1970s in the Saturday Evening Post and Esquire. In them, Wolitzer shares wry observations of domestic life in pre-Roe America that simultaneously reveal another era and resonate today. The collection includes more recent stories by Wolitzer, too, like the “The Great Escape,” which places readers in NYC in the early months of the pandemic, reintroducing us, with great affection, to characters from earlier stories, now in their 90s like the author herself.
Scholar of Victorian History and Zócalo Trustee
The Mountbattens: The Lives and Loves of Dickie and Edwina Mountbatten
by Andrew Lownie
The Mountbattens is an interesting look into the ultimate power couple of the last century, who had a marriage in “other people’s beds” (a quote by Mountbatten himself). While this is not a heavy read, it is a perfect airplane or beach book for anyone who is a bit of an Anglophile, offering a peek inside the machinations of the royal family and insight into some of the most significant events of the Second World War and its consequences—which are still very much with us today.