Fishin’ for Summer 2024 Books to Read?

Zócalo’s Friends and Contributors Have Reeled in Some Fresh Nonfiction for You

A man helps a young girl with her fishing pole, which currently has a large book at the end of the hook.

Illustration by Be Boggs.

Once again, Zócalo has cast our net wide, asking friends and contributors to take part in a beloved Public Square tradition: our annual compilation of nonfiction book recommendations for summer. This list eschews the expected beach reads, instead trawling deep waters for stories that lure us to new places, surprise us with fresh perspectives, and catch hold of our imaginations.

The 13 books that made the 2024 Zócalo Summer Reading List all make for excellent bookworm bait. They show us what goes into building cities, and what goes into building the image of one of the biggest bands of all time. They move us from India’s 1857 uprising to New Mexico’s present-day wildfires. They chronicle wisdom passed down across generations, and cutting-edge scientific research that helps us see the cosmos anew.

As you peruse this year’s offerings, we think you’ll see why these picks should be your catch of the day.



Shop Zócalo’s 2024 summer reading list through our independent bookstore partner:


Reid Hoffman

Tech Entrepreneur and Co-Founder, LinkedIn

Brave New Words: How AI Will Revolutionize Education (and Why That’s a Good Thing) 

by Salman Khan

The world of education is going to be one of the areas that is massively transformed for the better by AI. Sal shares with us the innovative approaches that can help us get there.

Josiah Luis Alderete

Poet and Co-owner, Medicine for Nightmares

Discourses of the Elders: The Aztec Huehuetlatolli A First English Translation

by Sebastian Purcell

Discourse of the Elders is the first English translation of a Huehuetlatolli—a series of discourses, written in Nahuatl, a Uto-Aztecan language predominantly spoken by peoples of central Mexico, from an older person to a young person. This fascinating translation teaches the Nahuatl notion of “rootedness,” and encourages an appreciation for the beauty that exists in the simple, often overlooked, details of our everyday lives. There is much practical wisdom in these pages to help navigate this “slick and slippery” Earth, and this book also provides an interesting and accessible introduction to Nahuatl philosophy.

Katina Michael

Professor at Arizona State University, School for the Future of Innovation in Society and School of Computing and Augmented Intelligence

HEARTS ABLAZE: A Fire in the Mountains

by Joe Carvalko

Fires have ravaged so much of our lands and disrupted so many lives in recent years. Here is a compendium of reflections about recent fires that burned 300,000 acres in New Mexico. Carvalko, whose father-in-law owns pastureland in the region, takes us on a personal journey, presenting a message of hope and survival for the peoples and pastures who have been on this land over the last 500 years. We learn about the importance of community, and the spirit that never tires of rebuilding.

Annie Zaidi

Essayist and Novelist

The Broken Script: Delhi Under the East India Company and the Fall of the Mughal Dynasty 1803-1857 

by Swapna Liddle

There are a lot of works focused on the 1857 uprising of Indian soldiers against the British East India Company and its aftermath, which continues to reverberate across South Asia. Written in precise, unromantic prose, The Broken Script describes the half-century of humiliation and harassment that preceded the uprising. It is a tale of petty ambition, thwarted princes, spies, and a culture ripped apart before it could be re-molded.

Gayle Wattawa

General Manager and Editorial Director, Heyday

Under Alien Skies: A Sightseer’s Guide to the Universe

by Philip Plait

If your summer travel, like mine, is more of the armchair variety, why not go interstellar with this vividly imagined tour of various sites in the universe, from the moon to Pluto and beyond to newly discovered exoplanets? This fascinating and funny narrative was thoroughly transporting.

Ian Klaus

Founding Director, Carnegie California

New Capitals: Building Cities From Scratch

by Nick Hannes

We’ve entered yet another historical era in which states seek to demonstrate their power and values—for domestic and international audiences—through the construction of new cities and capitals. Nick Hannes’ photos and Dorina Pojani’s accompanying essay capture these experiments in urbanism and geopolitics.

Héctor Tobar

Journalist, Novelist, and 2024 Zócalo Book Prize Winner

Master Slave Husband Wife: An Epic Journey From Slavery to Freedom

by Ilyon Woo

This page-turner tells the true story of a young couple’s gender-bending escape to freedom during the height of the American slave empire. Ilyon Woo reaches back across time and expertly recreates all the drama and intimacy of Ellen and William’s daring flight northward. But more than that, she paints a sweeping portrait of a country divided over slavery, and of the everyday indignities and violence inflicted on Black people—and their persistent efforts to resist and to liberate themselves.

National Security Reporter, the New York Times

At the Edge of Empire: A Family’s Reckoning with China 

by Edward Wong

Edward—a colleague of mine at the Times—weaves together his father’s history in the Red Army, his own experience covering China as a journalist, and the rise of Xi Jinping into a gripping summer narrative. The emergence of China as an explicit adversary of the United States and Xi’s ideological turn against capitalism surprised Washington. But not Edward, who takes the reader along on his own journey to trace his father’s history and understand how current-day China is changing. Bringing memoir and political analysis together is a tough challenge, but Edward does it well and I was left feeling much smarter about China—America’s most difficult foreign policy challenge.

Michelle Kholos Brooks


Parachute Women: Marianne Faithfull, Marsha Hunt, Bianca Jagger, Anita Pallenberg, and the Women Behind the Rolling Stones

by Elizabeth Winder

Parachute Women celebrates the unsung heroines behind 1960s male rock legends—specifically the Rolling Stones. It’s thrilling to learn how Anita Pallenberg, Marianne Faithful, Marsha Hunt, and Bianca Jagger provided entrées into social worlds the Stones were desperate to infiltrate. They also greatly influenced the Stones’ artistic, intellectual, and fashion evolutions. Unsurprisingly, the women were rarely credited for their contributions, often dismissed and demonized for indulging in the rock star life of their male counterparts. Parachute Women gives them their due—right down to acknowledging that before Pallenberg came along, “Keith Richards and Brian Jones still wore pants bought by their mothers.”

Duncan Ryuken Williams

Director, USC Shinso Ito Center for Japanese Religions and Culture

The Poet and the Silk Girl: A Memoir of Love, Imprisonment, and Protest

by Satsuki Ina

One of the most compelling accounts of the forced removal, unjust incarceration, and family separation experienced by the Japanese American community during WWII. Born in an American concentration camp, Satsuki Ina weaves her own experiences into conversation with her parents’ wartime letters and father’s haiku poetry from behind barbed wire to show how family history is a part of the very fabric of the struggle to belong in America. Brilliantly reveals how the past, present, and future are interlinked.

Colleen Jennings-Roggensack

Vice President for Cultural Affairs, Arizona State University and Executive Director, ASU Gammage

Yes, Chef: A Memoir 

by Marcus Samuelsson with Veronica Chambers

Yes, Chef chronicles Marcus Samuelsson’s journey to become one of the greatest chefs of all time. It’s an unforgettable story of food, family, and love that takes us from Marcus’ native Ethiopia to Sweden to America and beyond.

Brandon Hobson

Professor of Creative Writing, New Mexico State University and the Institute of American Indian Arts; Editor-in-Chief, Puerto del Sol

Knife: Meditations After an Attempted Murder

by Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie’s Knife, which I recently finished, is a powerful meditation on survival and resilience from one of our best living writers. I’ve been reading Mr. Rushdie for many years and have only gained more respect for him through the way he writes about trauma and violence in this book. Amazing.

Geetha Murali

CEO, Room to Read

The Half Known Life: In Search of Paradise

by Pico Iyer

This book moved me because it strives to see beyond immediate conflicts and seeks underlying human connections. The message mirrors my work advocating for the inherent right to education for all children and my belief in the power of education to bridge divides and foster understanding. Iyer’s book doesn’t necessarily provide a definition of paradise but helps us recognize that there will always be hope if we acknowledge our shared humanity. By exploring how different cultures and religions envision paradise amidst turmoil, Iyer underscores the importance of empathy and the interconnectedness of all human experiences.


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