A doctor’s guide to the best books for summer reading

By John Murphy
Published June 26, 2020

Key Takeaways

Summertime and the living is...easy? Not this summer. Not during the days of COVID-19. Nevertheless, this might be your summer to learn more, or just take a break from it all. Or maybe find something that’s kind of in between. MDLinx has you covered with this list of nine books to read this summer. Some of these reads are scholarly, some are escapist, and some are kind of a mix of both. All are worth your time. 

(Disclosure: The following post includes purchase recommendations and uses affiliate links to Amazon products, allowing MDLinx to receive commission for purchases. All suggestions are our own.)

A Gentleman in Moscow 

A Gentleman in Moscow

by Amor Towles

Feeling fed up with quarantining and social distancing? Just imagine that you’ve been sentenced to spend the rest of your life inside a hotel. (Hey, as long as there’s room service…) In 1922, at the height of the Russian Revolution, a Bolshevik tribunal sentences Count Alexander Rostov—an “unrepentant aristocrat”—to house arrest in Moscow’s Metropol Hotel. Confined to an attic room, Rostov begins a life of internal discovery while some of the most tumultuous years in Russian history take place on the streets below. 

“Amor Towles’ bestseller is perhaps the ultimate quarantine read,” described a review in O, The Oprah Magazine. “A Gentleman in Moscow is about thriving in captivity; the importance of community; the distance of a kind act; and resilience. It’s a manual for getting through the days to come.”

It’s also currently in production as a TV adaptation starring Kenneth Branagh.

Read A Gentleman in Moscow 

The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus

The Hot Zone

by Richard Preston  

Can’t read enough about deadly viruses? Take a trip back in time to the US Ebola outbreak with this colorful and gripping non-fiction account that reads like a page-turning thriller. As you may recall, this contagious viral hemorrhagic fever is characterized by vomiting, diarrhea, and internal and external bleeding, with a death rate of up to 90%. 

Although Ebola outbreaks continue to occur in Africa (its most deadly outbreak there ended in 2016, leaving 11,323 dead), The Hot Zone tells the tale of when the virus first occurred in the United States, suddenly appearing in infected lab monkeys at a research facility in Reston, VA, just outside of Washington, DC. In the book, a secret military team, comprised of both scientists and soldiers, is tasked with stopping the outbreak of this exotic “hot” virus. 

Horror writer Stephen King blurbed, “One of the most horrifying things I’ve ever read. What a remarkable piece of work.” 

Read The Hot Zone

The Plague

The Plague (2)

by Albert Camus

Do you prefer pandemics of the literary kind? The Plague, the classic 1947 work of fiction by French philosopher and Nobel Prize winner Albert Camus, is considered to be an allegory of the Nazi occupation of France—but it could also be read as an allegory of any overwhelming terror that seizes a people and paralyzes them into inaction or inhumanity. Although the contagious plague in this story brings a swift and horrifying death, some of the main characters—notably Dr. Rieux—find a way to resist the breakdown of their society. 

Despite the widespread and indiscriminate death, the reader is left with hope. Camus scholar and philosophy professor Matthew Sharpe, PhD, wrote: “It is the capacity of ordinary people to do extraordinary things that The Plague lauds. ‘There’s one thing I must tell you,’ Dr. Rieux at one point specifies: ‘there’s no question of heroism in all this. It’s a matter of common decency. That’s an idea which may make some people smile, but the only means of fighting a plague is common decency.’”

Read The Plague

The Last Trial

The Last Trial

by Scott Turow

How about something to take your mind off lockdowns and viruses? In the latest legal thriller by Scott Turow (author of Presumed Innocent), legal eagle defense lawyer Alejandro “Sandy” Stern is about to retire when his old friend Dr. Kiril Pafko, a Nobel Prize winner in Medicine, is charged with murder, fraud, and insider trading. 

Turns out, Dr. Pafko’s miraculous cancer drug—which cured Sandy’s own cancer—has caused the death of many other patients. And, it appears that the good doctor had sold his shares in the pharma company that produced the drug—just before the patients’ deaths were revealed. Maybe the good doctor isn’t so good after all...? 

“No one tells this sort of story better than Turow. No one has illuminated the human side of the legal profession with such precision and care,” according to a review in The Washington Post. “The Last Trial is Scott Turow at his best and most ambitious. He has elevated the genre once again.” 

Read The Last Trial

American Poison: How Racial Hostility Destroyed Our Promise

American Poison

by Eduardo Porter

Want to learn about a timely issue that isn’t about coronavirus? Right now, the issue that’s most affecting America (besides COVID-19) is racial injustice. 

In this wide-ranging analysis, author Eduardo Porter argues that racism isn’t just a human rights issue but a macroeconomic one as well—one that must be immediately addressed if America is to remain a world power. 

“Porter, a New York Times economics reporter who has covered the intersection of race and economics around the world, is uniquely conversant and globally-minded on these issues,” according to an Esquire review. “Weaving together social science research and historical context, he dissects how racism infects every stratum of American society, from unions to public education to immigration policy.”

Read American Poison

The Illness Lesson

The Illness Lesson

by Clare Beams

Ready to take a look at a quack treatment from yesteryear that still resonates today? Here’s a debut novel, set in post-Civil War New England, that was named one of the most anticipated books of 2020 by Time, Vanity Fair, Esquire, O Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, BookRiot, and LitHub.

In 19th-century Massachusetts, Samuel Hood, the leader of a failed intellectual movement, and his daughter Caroline set out to open a school to provide a revolutionary education for young women. But, when a flock of strange red birds invades the town, Caroline senses something is wrong. Soon after, the new students develop a mysterious syndrome involving rashes, seizures, headaches, verbal tics, and night wanderings. Despite Caroline’s appeals, Samuel calls in an acclaimed (but, to Caroline’s mind, suspicious) doctor, whose treatment methods—based on true-life historic treatment for “hysteria”—shock Caroline. Gradually, Caroline attempts to defy the authority that the men around her impose (whether well-intended or not) on women’s bodies and wills. 

“This suspenseful and vividly evocative tale expertly explores women’s oppression as well as their sexuality through the eyes of a heroine who is sometimes maddening, at other times sympathetic, and always wholly compelling and beautifully rendered,” observed a Booklist review

Read The Illness Lesson

The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz

The Splendid and the Vile

by Erik Larson 

Want to be on the front lines of a totally different kind of world crisis? Author Erik Larson (author of the non-fiction bestseller The Devil in the White City) takes readers inside the London blitzkrieg during the darkest hours of World War II. This intimate account chronicles how newly elected Prime Minister Winston Churchill instills in the British people “the art of being fearless” and the will to “never give in—except to convictions of honor and good sense.” 

A recent review on Forbes.com noted: “In the midst of this global pandemic there has been a stark absence of strong and competent international leadership...Larson not only details Churchill’s wartime heroics and political risks, but his family’s every day anxieties and dramas. Set against a backdrop of unrelenting horror, Larson documents Churchill’s charisma, courage and steadfast leadership, giving his readers hope through history.”

Read The Splendid and the Vile

A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II 

A Woman of No Importance

by Sonia Purnell

Another non-fiction book on World War II? Really? Absolutely. While The Splendid and the Vile chronicles a world leader on the front lines, A Woman of No Importance takes readers deep behind enemy lines to tell a never-before-told story of an unknown spy. 

Chosen as a Best Book of the Year by NPR, the New York Public Library, Amazon, the Washington Independent Review of Books, and The Times of London (among others), this award-winning biography is about Virginia Hall, a Baltimore socialite who became the first Allied woman deployed in occupied France (despite having a prosthetic leg).

The Gestapo put up wanted posters across Europe with her face and this description: “The Enemy’s most dangerous spy. We must find and destroy HER.”

Clever, resourceful, and elusive, Hall started as an ambulance driver but progressed ever deeper into spycraft, eventually lighting the fuse that sparked the French Resistance. She established extensive networks of informants and spies, organized spectacular jailbreaks, called in bombing strikes that blew up bridges and resources, and led a successful guerilla campaign after D-Day that freed large areas of France—and lived to tell the tale (although she kept it secret after the war). 

“Excellent,” raved a review in The New York Times Book Review. “This book is as riveting as any thriller, and as hard to put down.”

Read A Woman of No Importance

How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy

How to Do Nothing

by Jenny Odell

Are you so overworked and stressed out that now you just want to do nothing? But, well, it’s been so long since you did nothing that you really don’t know how to do nothing? 

Why can’t we just switch off when we need to? 

It’s because most of us are caught up in the modern “attention economy,” where our time and attention aren’t well spent unless it’s for the pursuit of profit and progress. Doing nothing, author Jenny Odell argues, is a radical step toward resisting the attention economy—and a step closer to regaining personal fulfillment and happiness. 

“Quarantine has invited much debate about the value society places on productivity, and to what end? As people spend more time at home, the question of how to spend that time remains foremost in the conversation,” according to a review of the book in Parade. “Odell asks readers to consider a world in which that’s not always the question, and output isn’t always the answer.”

How to Do Nothing was named one of the Best Books of the Year (2019) by Time, The New Yorker, NPR, GQ, Elle, Fortune, The Irish Times, and The New York Public Library

Read How to Do Nothing

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