Our Summer Reading List 2018

The members of Erstwhile’s editorial board share their summer reading plans.

In the last two years, we have had a great guest post reminding us of the value of reading fiction and our fiction summer reading list. This year, we offer (for the most part) one fiction and one non-fiction work that we’re hoping to get to this summer. Tell us about your summer reading plans in the comments. Have a great summer and happy reading!




This is the debut novel by Cheyenne/Arapaho author Tommy Orange, and it’s generating considerable buzz in literary circles. Orange’s work of historical fiction is, as he explains, a “multigenerational, multi-voiced novel about Native people living in Oakland.” His work is sure to reframe how historians and the larger public think about urban Indigenous experiences.


As I prepare to head down the (long, circuitous) path of turning my dissertation into a book, I’m savoring texts heralded for both their insight and readability. Shilts’s work, published some thirty years ago, still comes up in conversation with historians and writers discussing timeless texts with captivating prose. I suspect a lot of the issues Shilts covers will also be useful teaching material down the line.


Prolific author and historian H. W. Brands takes on the “People’s President” in this biographical work.  I settled on this book after taking a trip to Jackson’s “Hermitage” outside of Nashville while visiting my family and realizing that I knew less about the seventh president of the United States than I would like.


Warren’s classic novel about a populist governor’s rise to infamy was inspired by the life of the “Kingfish,” Huey P. Long of Louisiana. I chose this book because such a story of populism, greed, and corruption is sure to have some resonance in today’s ridiculous political climate.


James’s most well regarded novel tells the story of a young woman and her loss of freedom after coming into a great deal of money. This is a novel that I come across a lot in my research and I have decided that it is well past time to sit down with it and give it a whirl.



Dr. Ferguson (Western Carolina University) has written a study of the Delta Cooperative Farm (1936 – 1942) and Providence Farm (1938 – 1956), two cooperative, integrated farming experiments where Black and white farmers settled hundreds of acres in the Mississippi Delta to resist exploitative Jim Crow-era labor practices and segregation. I’m excited to read this in part because it seems to follow in the tradition of books that explore how Black southerners (and, on rare occasion, white southerners) organized against white supremacy during Jim Crow (see Hammer and Hoe by Robin D. G. Kelley, and Denying Dixie by Glenda Gilmore).


This book is a posthumously published piece by famed anthropologist and writer Zora Neale Hurston. Between 1927 and 1931, Hurston conducted a series of interviews with Cudjo Lewis in Plateau, Alabama. Illegally stolen from his home in Africa and smuggled into the United States aboard the slave ship Clotilda in 1859, Lewis later founded the town of Plateau with other Africans forced aboard the ship. This highly anticipated book also includes a forward by author, poet, and activist Alice Walker


This work of historical fiction dramatizes the most tumultuous years of the French Revolution through the eyes of three of its central radical figures: Camille Desmoulins, Georges-Jacques Danton, and Maximilien Robespierre. These friends, political allies, and eventually bitter enemies all met their ends in the violence of the guillotine, which they helped unleash. An English writer, Mantel is well-known for her Man Booker Prize-winning novels Wolf Hall (2009) and Bring Up the Bodies (2012) about Thomas Cromwell and the court of Henry VIII.


Prepared from Marx’s notes by his collaborator Friedrich Engels and published following Marx’s death in 1883, this second volume of Marx’s masterwork deals with the circulation of capital. The geographer David Harvey has a useful and free online class for volumes one and two that can help a reader through these tomes (Harvey’s lectures are also available in print as A Companion to Marx’s Capital). Last summer, a couple colleagues and I made it through the first volume and its accompanying course, meeting after the lecture each week to discuss. A reading group can keep you honest and on track to finish the book in twelve or thirteen weeks.


From what I have heard, Steven Hackel’s biography of Junipero Serra interprets the personal motivations and historical currents that prompted the missionary’s controversial actions in Native California homelands. As a scholar of early California and the West, I’m really looking forward to reading this flesh-and-blood take on a colonial figure so redolent of myth and mysticism.


This book is a rich compendium of Krista Tippett’s insights on the possibilities for common life in the 21st century, garnered during thirteen years hosting her wonderful podcast on the subject. After glancing through the book’s introduction, I can tell it promises rich ideas for fostering human connection during a time of frayed trust between persons and nations.


 I came across this beautiful coffee table book while in Back of Beyond Books in Moab, Utah, my favorite bookstore on the planet, the other day, and while I didn’t purchase it this time I’ll be saving up this summer to buy it when I’m back in Moab in July. Part essay, part reprint of Eliot Porter’s 1963 elegy for Glen Canyon, part photographic tour of a Glen Canyon reemerging as Lake Powell dries up, this book looks like a creative way of examining climate change, infrastructure needs, and the resiliency of the natural world. The publisher describes it as such: “Their starting point was Eliot Porter’s landmark book of color photography, The Place No One Knew: Glen Canyon on the Colorado, published by the Sierra Club in 1963 as a political statement about what had been lost under the dam’s waters and why it should never happen again. Their ending point is the reemergence of the river and the rise of questions about climate, the fate of the southwest, the folly of human endeavors to control nature, and the possibility of seeing these places and problems in new ways.”


Full disclosure: My husband and I got married at Hell’s Backbone Grill, the restaurant run by Blake and Jen in Boulder, Utah, so I’m clearly a fan of anything they do. Now that I’m finished with grad school and have far more time on my hands, I’m looking forward to spending a good chunk of the summer reading and cooking, and this book has plenty of fodder for both of those activities. Blake and Jen’s delicious recipes are interspersed with beautiful essays from contributing authors, and the book is “a love letter” to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, the 1.8 million acre national monument recently (and illegally) rescinded by the Trump administration. If you have the chance, head out to Boulder to explore the Utah desert, stay at Boulder Mountain Lodge, and eat at Hell’s Backbone Grill. The combination of the scenery, the opportunities for outdoor adventure, and the delicious food will not disappoint.

4 thoughts on “Our Summer Reading List 2018

  1. It having sat on my bookshelf for too long, I’m going to get around to reading Robert O. Self’s “American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland” (Princeton, 2003) – about my adopted hometown.

  2. I am stoked to see that “This Immeasurable Place” made your Summer Reading List. It’s not even remotely your usual cookbook. On top of containing the most scrumptious, to-die-for recipes ever, it’s a compelling, illuminating, and delightful read. Kudos to you!

  3. Pingback: Reading in a Winter Wonderland: Erstwhile’s winter break reading list. | Erstwhile: A History Blog

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