Summer beach reads have gotten a bad rap. They’re often dismissed as trivial and unimportant—solely there to keep you entertained with salacious scenes and over-the-top, nonsensical twists at the end that will make you forget about everything else in the world at that moment.
But what if I told you that you could bring a book to the beach—or wherever else you might be taking a nice, long break—that is both a page-turner and educational? I know, the latter sounds like a snooze when kicking back in a lounge chair next to pristine blue waters with a glass of chilled wine at your side. But business books can be fun—when penned by the hands of the right storytellers.
Here’s a list of titles you can order online for your e-reader and many of which are currently available at bookstores in major airports. Admittedly, some of these are smarter than others, but they will keep you entertained and enlightened.
Safe travels and happy reading.
Bad Blood by John Carreyrou
Perhaps the gold standard for this subcategory (and maybe journalism books overall) at the moment. John Carreyrou digs deep into the Theranos backstory, well beyond the shocking revelations first revealed thru his diligent investigative reporting for the Wall Street Journal in the fall of 2015. Carreyrou does a masterful job of weaving together a wide swath of characters and story threads, keeping readers hooked—even if they happen to know Theranos’s current state of affairs (spoiler: not good) or not. And for literary nerds, there is a narrative voice shift midway through that amps up the suspense level in an unexpected but completely welcome manner.
A page-turner at its most literal, I finished the book within three days, and based on social media response to the book, so did most other readers who picked it up since being released in the last few weeks.
Brotopia by Emily Chang
For anyone who has worked in Silicon Valley (or covered it), for many people reading between the lines, there are two Silicon Valleys: one for men and another for women. As detailed by Bloomberg report Emily Chang in Brotopia, the real power is held by the men, who treat the Bay Area (and by extension, the world) as their playground, throwing billions of dollars not just at overvalued and questionable startups, but at over-the-top parties with booze, drugs, and scantily clad models only there to serve as eye candy to the men who paid for them.
Chang chronicles this “bro culture” and the new all-boys club of the 21st century—despite Big Tech’s constant marketing about free-thinking business mantras and breaking down borders—and the women trying to navigate this uncomfortable scene, often confronted with sexual harassment and even assault.
And if you never knew what a “cuddle puddle” was before this book, you will never forget—and maybe never be the same—after reading about it.
Hatching Twitter by Nick Bilton
Given how much controversy manages to generate on Twitter on an hourly (if not minute-by-minute) basis now, it’s no surprise then that the founding of the social media brand was mired in controversy of its own. Previously at the New York Times and now at Vanity Fair, Nick Bilton chronicles Twitter’s roots (first as a podcast company named Odeo) back to a small office space in tiny South Park neighborhood in San Francisco’s tech-heavy South of Market district.
There are four primary characters at the founding of what we know now as Twitter (a name Jack Dorsey supposedly plucked from the dictionary): Dorsey, Ev Williams, Biz Stone, and Noah Glass. Bilton does an incredible job of flowing these four narratives together while maintaining four distinct characters (and later a fifth towards the end with the arrival of Dick Costolo), repeatedly referred to by their first names, just as informally as might would refer to someone on Twitter. Suffice to say, the original four didn’t stay friends for long, with enough betrayal and backstabbing that you’d think you were reading something out of Game of Thrones.
Born Trump by Emily Jane Fox
Given their obvious love of the spotlight for decades now—not to mention countless leaks out of the White House on a daily basis—it might seem like we already know everything there is to know about the Trumps. (Or at least, whatever Robert Mueller hasn’t made public yet.) But Vanity Fair‘s Emily Jane Fox manages to tease out yet even more salacious tidbits (beyond whatever you’ve read in either the current mainstream press or the tabloids of the late 1980s and 1990s) about each member of House Trump, painting a complete counter portrait to the Camelot facade of the Kennedys.
Chasing Hillary by Amy Chozick
Compared to Katy Tur’s account of being a beat reporter on the Trump campaign in 2016, reading Amy Chozick’s account of covering Hillary Clinton is like reading about covering a campaign in a different time period, if not on a different planet. Chozick has the unique viewpoint of having covered both of Clinton’s presidential campaigns but for two different newspapers: the Wall Street Journal in 2008 and the New York Times in 2016. As the Clinton beat reporter in 2016, Chozick does take time (and some responsibility) in discussing how the former Secretary of State’s emails were covered by the Paper of Record and what influence that could have had over the general election.
But what is far more captivating is Chozick’s frank talk about what covering the woman who aspired to be the First Woman President meant for her as a woman and as a journalist, not to mention the rest of the predominantly female press corps covering the Clinton campaign. (You’ll also want to pull your hair out in frustration as Chozick recounts having to deal with Clinton’s predominantly male PR team. Clinton, however, is painted as a curious character, at times aloof or self-conscious, and other times described as deeply spiritual and engaging with constituents in vignettes that were largely overlooked during the campaign.)
And many contemporary journalists (ahem, ahem) can certainly relate to some of the vignettes described by Chozick from early in her journalism career, from running around and dropping off college newspaper clips and resumés (in paper!) at dozens of newsrooms in Midtown Manhattan to finally landing an internship only to find you’re basically a coffee runner, at best. By the end of this book, both author and reader might simultaneously realize how far they’ve come.
The Vanity Fair Diaries by Tina Brown
If you happen to be traveling for a long time this summer and only want to bring one long, but engrossing, book, make it this one. Tina Brown‘s memoir spans the course of the 1980s (with a dip into the 1990s), chronicling her tenure as the first female editor-in-chief of Condé Nast’s then-revival of Vanity Fair.
Previously at London-based Tatler and later EIC at The New Yorker, Brown is refreshingly honest about the difficulties of not only trying to balance a career with starting a family, but also handling the mercurial moods and preferences of the (mostly male) colleagues and bosses around her. Also a delicious read for anyone wanting an inside look at the last glory days of magazine publishing might have been like, some of Brown’s entries are frighteningly prescient given Donald Trump’s presence in the Manhattan social scene at the time.
The Billionaire’s Vinegar by Benjamin Wallace
When is the last time you splurged on a bottle of wine? How much did you spend? Did it taste how you’d expect? After answering those questions to yourself, now consider the 1787 Château Lafite Bordeaux, which sold for $156,000 at auction in 1985. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg about this mysterious bottle, of which the taste is probably the least interesting thing about it.
Supposedly once owned by Thomas Jefferson (who apparently didn’t sample it), this Bordeaux wine lived a longer and wackier life, potentially intersecting with more characters throughout history than you could write for a protagonist out of a Hollywood film, à la Forrest Gump or Benjamin Button. Even if you’re not into wine, but you’re into heists and stories about con artists, you won’t be able to resist finding out where this bottle washes ashore next.
The Bettencourt Affair by Tom Sancton
Perhaps you wouldn’t think that a 94-year-old French woman could be at the center of a multibillion-dollar scandal—but then you must not have heard of Liliane Bettencourt. The L’Oreal heiress found herself at the center of an eponymous scandal that spiraled out of control. The mess became so far reaching with nefarious corporate ties dating back to World War II as well as a sketchy romance—all based in and around the City of Light—there is something truly for everyone, whether you’re looking for a family soap opera, a courtroom drama, or just a book that firmly brings your mind’s eye to Paris.