Great Reads for a Great Summer

By Mike Affuso
President & CEO, NJBankers

With Memorial Day weekend behind us, we’re now gearing up for the summer season. A time to enjoy the outdoors, linger a while by the shade of a tree, listen to the ocean with its soothing sounds and cool breezes, or maybe just crank up the AC in the apartment. I know I’ve done all three. For the past 30 years, I’ve sweated out in Jersey City or Washington DC, relaxed under a leafy canopy in Culver Lake or was forever young at the Shore. Of all the places and all the feelings, I have always had with me three things: good food, good music, and good books.

Before summer officially starts in late June, I’m going to ruminate on all three, starting with my recommended summer reading list. These are, in my humble opinion, the all-time best reads.

Before we dive into those – I’ll quickly share the new books I’ll be reading this summer:

  • Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David Blight
  • The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes
  • A First-Class Temperament: The Emergence of Franklin Roosevelt by Geoffery Ward
  • W.E.B. Du Bois: Biography of a Race Volume I by David Levering Lewis

My All-Time Top 10 Recommended Reads

I apologize in advance if you take on the challenge of reading any or all of these. They can be as much of a physical challenge to lift as a mental challenge to conquer, but like everyone else challenging, these books will be well worth it.

  1. Master of The Senate by Robert Caro
    If you want to understand how power works, read this book. It has over 1,000 pages and by the end you’ll wish it was 1,000 more. This is the third book in a five-volume series – the fifth is yet to be released – focused on the life’s work of Lyndon Baines Johnson. I’ve read all four that are out so far, but if you’re going to only read one, this is the one.
  2. The Collapse of the Third Republic by William Shirer
    The author is better known for his epic on Nazi Germany, but this one is about how a nation chose – yes chose – to fail. It’s chilling. If you don’t speak French, you struggle with the names, but again, as will be the case with all the recommendations, the struggle is worth it. 
  3. The Power Broker by Robert Caro
    It’s an amazing story of power and hubris and about getting things done, both right and wrong. It’s a light 1,000 pager, but like Master of The Senate won the Pulitzer. If you love NYC and Long Island, you must read this. 
  4. Truman by David McCullough
    I stole this one from my girlfriend’s brother. It gave me my love for reading long biographies. Truman was much maligned when he left office, but history has been good to him. It’s a story of a common man doing what he believed was right. 
  5. Thurgood Marshall by Juan Williams 
    As a Justice of the Supreme Court, Thurgood Marshall won some and lost more. Not as a lawyer before the Court – there he won 29 of 32 civil rights cases. Marshall devised, planned, and implemented the entire legal strategy for civil rights in the United States. He also had the raw courage to drive in a car around the South while he was doing it. A fast read on the best legal strategist of the 20th century and maybe beyond.
  6. Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin
    This is a story about Lincoln and his rivals – not General Lee and Jefferson Davis, but his own cabinet. I love this author, and I believe this is her best work. It captures Lincoln, both deeply melancholy and with great fortitude. 
  7. The Invisible Bridge by Rick Perlstein
    This book documents the times and politics between Nixon and Reagan. Time may be trying now, but the 70s, yes, the 70s were crazy, with bombings, kidnappings, and more tearing the social fabric. This book sets the stage for and documents the emergence of Ronald Reagan.
  8. Whittaker Chambers by Sam Tanenhaus
    This is a great story of where the left was wrong – just plain wrong. Alger Hiss was a spy and he lied. This book is a great read about two men who were exact opposites. It’s a fast read and will make you think if you let it seep in.
  9. Triangle: The Fire That Changed America by David Von Drehle
    The story of Jewish and Italian women who died in one of the worst industrial accidents of all time, and as a result, a new era of liberal social policy emerged. If you want to know the origins of old-fashioned liberalism, it starts here. 
  10. Target Tokyo: Jimmy Doolittle and the Raid that Avenged Pearl Harbor by James Scott
    In World War II, men took off from carriers in the Pacific to bomb the Japanese Homeland for the first time. They only had enough fuel for a one-way trip, but this group of volunteers broke the spirit of invincibility of Japan. It reads like a teen action novel, but it’s all real – even my mother read it. 

Honorable Mentions:

If you don’t want to lug around the heavy books, these two are light reads from the homeland of Jersey City.

  • Five Finger Discount by Helene Stapinski
    This is a laugh-out-loud page turner for anyone who came from or knows about, Hudson County, South Philly, South Boston, or any other place where a wink and nod is a full conversation.
  • The Powerticians by Thomas Smith
    An amazing dive into Hudson County and Jersey City politics. Save the eye rolls, if you know, you know. The author was also a Jersey City Mayor and played for the Knicks.

Happy reading.