Summer 2020’s Great Escape: Books

What Cobalt Staffers Are Recommending for Your Summer Reading List

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They say reading a great book is like escaping to another world. Nothing could be more appealing in these COVID-clouded, work-from-home times, when many actual trips are canceled — but not all summer escapes are created equal. Do you want to immerse yourself in the life of a historical figure? Learn how to better yourself for the future? Or travel to a fantasy world filled with never-seen-before creatures? Read on to see what we at Cobalt are escaping with these days (when we’re not working or walking in nature), and maybe add one or two to your list.

Summer Escape #1: To a Nearby Planet

“Red Mars,” “Green Mars,” and “Blue Mars” (a trilogy) by Kim Stanley Robinson is a near-future imagining of interplanetary colonization and the human race’s impact on the red planet.

Brian Green explores the cosmos and our quest to find meaning in the face of this vast expanse in “Until the End of Time.” The book is a journey from the big bang to the end of time, exploring how lasting structures formed, how life and mind emerged, and how we grapple with our existence.

Summer Escape #2: To a Faraway Country

“The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train Through Asia” follows Paul Theroux on a four-month journey by train in 1973 from London through Europe, the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia, and his return via the Trans-Siberian Railway.

“Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi traces the story of a Ghanaian family over the course of two centuries, through the lives of two branches of its descendants, one in Ghana and one in the United States.

Summer Escape #3: To a Greater Life

“Seward: Lincoln’s Indispensable Man” by Walter Stahr examines the life of William Henry Seward, who was one of the most important Americans of the nineteenth century. As secretary of state and Lincoln’s closest adviser during the Civil War, Seward not only managed foreign affairs but had a substantial role in military, political and personnel matters.

“Carnegie’s Maid” by Marie Benedict tells the story of a brilliant woman who may have spurred Andrew Carnegie’s transformation from ruthless industrialist into the world’s first true philanthropist.

Summer Escape #4: To a Lonely Island

In “Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I Have Never Set Foot on and Never Will,” Judith Schalansky uses historic events and scientific reports as a springboard for each island, providing information on its distance from the mainland, its habitants and features, and the stories that have shaped its lore alongside full-color maps.

“Robinson Crusoe” is a fictional autobiography (actually written by Daniel Defoe) published in 1719 and claimed by some to be the first novel in English. The story chronicles Crusoe’s life from his childhood to his 28-year involuntary stint on the “Island of Despair,” off the coast of Venezuela.

Summer Escape #5: To a Something Unimaginable

Clive Barker’s “Weaveworld” is a dark fantasy novel about a magical world that is hidden inside a tapestry, known as the Fugue, to safeguard it from both inquisitive humans and hostile supernatural foes.

“Words of Radiance” by Brandon Sanderson is an epic fantasy novel from the Stormlight Archive series. Each book in the series features a set of flashbacks that illuminate the backstory of a major character.

“The Hidden Girl” by Ken Liu contains 17 interlinking visions — in the form of sci-fi and fantasy short stories — that explore what it is to be human, and what it is like to abandon or transcend that.

Summer Escape #6: Through Self-Help

“How to Be an Antiracist” by Ibram X Kendi shows that when it comes to racism, neutrality is not an option: until we become part of the solution, we can only be part of the problem.

Angela Duckworth examines the concept of grit in her book by the same name “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.” The researcher has found that grit — this combination of passion and perseverance — is more important than anything innate. She talks to high achievers, from spelling bee champions to CEOs, and shows how grit helped them get where they are.

Summer Escape #7: Into a Meaty Topic

Victor Frankl’s classic “Man’s Search for Meaning” argues that we cannot avoid suffering but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it and move forward with renewed purpose.

In “Reductionism in Art and Brain Science — Bridging the Two Cultures,” author Eric R. Kandel demonstrates how science can inform the way we experience a work of art and seek to understand its meaning.

Summer Escape #8: To a Darker Time

(hey, it could be worse!)

“One Second After” by William R. Forstchen examines an unexpected electromagnetic pulse attack on the United States and its effects as they play out in a small town in North Carolina.

“The Water Cure” is a post-apocalyptic story by Sophie Mackintosh in which the three adult daughters — Grace, Lia and Sky — of parents known as King and Mother have found shelter on a tiny island after a catastrophe turns the mainland into a toxic chemical stew.

In “Dawn” by Octavia Butler, Lilith Iyapo has just lost her husband and son when atomic fire consumes Earth — the last stage of the planet’s final war. An alien race calls on her to revive mankind after Earth’s apocalypse in this science fiction classic.

All of these summer escapes are available through, which allows you to shop online but still support your local bookstore.

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