Reconnect with your inner bookworm: A nonfiction summer reading list in pairs

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Peter Zhang/Staff

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No, it’s not an assignment in disguise. Summer is a great time to reconnect with your inner bookworm. Whether you’re chilling at the beach or sheltering in place, consider picking up one of these pairs of nonfiction books.

“When Breath Becomes Air” by Paul Kalanithi and “Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End” by Atul Gawande

A Stanford neurosurgeon has sludged through medical school and six years of residency. With one foot over the finish line, he starts to feel sick. A CT scan confirms his worst fears: He has lung cancer. The late Kalanithi’s autobiography is a heart-wrenching story about medicine, mortality and the meaning of life. After you dry your tears, Gawande’s book offers a second perspective on the nature of death and physician obligations. Drawing on personal stories and professional counsel, Gawande stresses the importance of giving purpose to people nearing death. During a time of immense loss, these books gave me a medium to think about mortality.

“Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams” by Matthew Walker and “Why We Dream: The Transformative Power of Our Nightly Journey” by Alice Robb

Haven’t seen sunrise in a while? The next time you find yourself awake at 3 a.m., drop your phone and pick up this dreamy duo. Walker — a UC Berkeley professor and seasoned sleep researcher — lays out the case for sleep: a near cure-all that makes you healthier, smarter, happier and more attractive (still waiting on that one). Still awake? Journalist Robb dives into fresh research on dreaming, which promotes creativity, cements knowledge and provides an early warning system for illness. Even better, Robb provides a step-by-step guide to lucid dreaming. Good night! (If you really enjoy Walker’s book, he teaches a course on the subject called “Psychology and Sleep.”)

“Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst” by Robert Sapolsky and “Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics” by Richard Thaler

These two wonderfully funny textbooks reminded me that learning can be fun. “Behave” does everything that your high school biology teacher couldn’t. Stanford professor Sapolsky takes the reader on a tour through human behavior that begins in your brain and ends in ancient rainforests. He brings biology out of the classroom and gives a biologist’s perspective on religion, sports, morality, war and criminal justice. Following up, University of Chicago professor Thaler reconciles this bag-of-chemicals version of humans with the theoretical decision-makers of economic models. From paying too much for gym memberships to saving too little for retirement, Thaler introduces behavioral economics through relatable everyday examples that will make you laugh and blush.

“Perfectly Confident: How to Calibrate Your Decisions Wisely” by Don Moore and “The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work” by Shawn Achor

Is the glass half full or half empty? If you said the former, then UC Berkeley professor Moore has the right book for you. He argues that optimism — particularly when we overestimate our performance — is dangerous, especially if you’re an investor or a politician. Moore’s prescription is to identify wishful thinking, quantify your beliefs and change perspectives. For the glass-half-empty folk, Achor explains the value of a positive attitude and an internal locus of control. His core message: Happiness is a feeling that we can cultivate, and it enables us to be more successful.

You should be able to find most of these in your local library. Hope to see you around with one of these book pairs!

Contact Peter Zhang at [email protected].