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Elayna Trucker, Your July in Books: Stop the Summer Slide with New Nonfiction!
Your July in Books

Elayna Trucker, Your July in Books: Stop the Summer Slide with New Nonfiction!

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Yes, yes, I know that normally “the summer slide” only applies to kids in school, but these hot, dry summers also tend to melt adult brains too, don’t you think? Beach reads are all well and good (and strongly encouraged!), but sometimes it’s nice to challenge yourself or learn something new. And really, any book is a beach reach if you take it to the beach.

With that in mind, I’ve picked out some notable nonfiction books publishing in the next month that are sure to educate and enthrall.

Michael Pollan

In a follow-up to the wildly successful "How to Change Your Mind," Michael Pollan’s "This is Your Mind on Plants" (July 6) is a deep dive into three mind-altering drugs: opium, mescaline, and caffeine. You read that right: caffeine! Used the world over to sharpen the mind and wake the body up, we don’t tend to think of caffeine as a drug. But, just like opium and mescaline, it affects the way your brain works and can be powerfully addictive.

Pollan asks, why is this drug legal and socially acceptable in some cultures when others are not? In seeking to answer this question, Pollan also delves into the greater mystery of why humans are so drawn to these mind-altering substances, and what the act of doing so says about our desire to engage with nature on a deeper level.

Catherine Raven

Speaking of connecting with nature, formal national park ranger Catherine Raven had an unusual experience with a usually very shy creature. In "Fox and I: An Uncommon Friendship" (July 6), Raven details a unique time in her life when, living in a tiny cottage in Montana, she noticed that a little fox visited her garden each afternoon at the same time. Unsure of how to respond to this regular visitor, but wanting to interact in some way, she pulled out her camping chair and began to read to him "The Little Prince."

Though Raven knew better than to anthropomorphize a wild animal (as she had learned while working on her PhD in biology), she couldn’t help but notice and grow to love the fox’s distinct personality. Isolated from most human interactions, Raven realized that true loneliness is impossible when one is immersed in the natural world.

Christopher W. Leahy

Sticking with the nature theme, "Birdpedia: A Brief Compendium of Avian Lore" by Christopher W. Leahy (July 6), is a sweet little book about all things bird. Accompanied by black and white line drawings by Abby McBride, the 180-plus entries in this A-Z collection range from such topics as anting (birds will sometimes visit ant nests to let the ants crawl on them as a way to deal with feather mites), what bird’s nests are edible, fossils, and how birds are named. He illuminates some of the secrets of birders and includes entries on famous ornithologists. Any bird lover will want this in their library for quick reference or a delighted deep dive.

Winifred Gallagher

Noted author Winifred Gallagher reveals the forgotten stories that helped shape the West in "New Women in the Old West: From Settlers to Suffragists, an Untold American Story" (July 20). Westward expansion in the 1800s required women to take on roles previously left to men, as settler life was so demanding. Though they had far fewer rights than men, these women often did the same work, and the inequities became all too obvious. Women founded schools and churches, became educated, and won the right to vote in most Western states and territories long before the federal government enacted womens’ suffrage in 1914.

Gallagher focuses on the Black and Asian women who have largely been ignored by scholarship of the settler West, as well as on the Native American and Mexican women who were displaced along with their families due to westward expansion. Meticulously researched using a wealth of personal letters and diaries, Gallagher gives a voice to this long-neglected group of women who helped shape the West we live in today.

Sam Kean

Sam Kean is a very popular science writer whose forte is finding lesser-known tidbits from the history of science and bringing them to life. His newest, "The Icepick Surgeon: Murder, Fraud, Sabotage, Piracy, and Other Dastardly Deeds Perpetrated in the Name of Science" (July 13), capitalizes on the current cultural obsession with true crime. Science is usually motivated by the desire to do good, or at the very least to increase the breadth of human knowledge. But sometimes, scientists can let their obsessions get away from them, and the results can be truly horrific.

Starting with Cleopatra, moving through the transatlantic slave trade and on to the Manhattan Project and the roots of modern anti-vaccination fears, Kean reveals dark moments in scientific history when ambition got the better of the scientist. This is an unflinching look at what happens when scientists sacrifice morals for progress, and how doing so makes us end up with neither.

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Elayna Trucker is buyer at Napa Bookmine. Contact her at

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