Not much good at the typical “beach read?” Here’s the ideal vacation compromise: What Should We Be Worried About? Real Scenarios That Keep Scientists Up at Night (Harper Perennial, $15.99). Edited by John Brockman of Edge.org, the anthology boasts a breezy format of short essays, perfect for the rhythms of sun and surf. In each entry, a prominent biologist, social scientist, physicist, or theoretician presents a concern his or her work has illuminated, but that perhaps isn’t yet on everyone’s radar. The impressive list of contributors includes Steven Pinker, Evgeny Morozov, Daniel Dennett, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and Ariana Huffington, and their comments cover everything from internet blackouts to internet drivel, a lack of research investment to a dearth of robots, children with iPhones and markets without growth—until at last we reach the pronouncement: “I worry about worry.” Because what is a vacation, if not a chance to put daily life in proper perspective?
Decades before the long-form internet podcast, Henry Jaglom was taping his daily meals at Ma Maison with Orson Welles. Recorded over several years late in Welles’s life, the thousands of hours of conversation were transcribed and edited into My Lunches With Orson (Picador, $16) by veteran film journalist Peter Biskind. At their regular table the two directors discussed everything from gripes with and gossip about Hollywood, politics, art, their latest projects and the correct temperature for chicken salad. Sifting fact from fiction when it comes to the legendary Welles is a fool’s errand, but why would you ever want to? No one played the part of Orson Welles better than the man himself. Part charming hagiography, part politically-incorrect diatribe, and part crash course in the fine art of human conversation, My Lunches with Orson is more than a great book—it’s great company.
A collection of interviews with some of America’s few surviving World War One veterans, Richard Rubin’s The Last of the Doughboys (Mariner, $15.95) offers fresh perspectives on what Rubin calls “the forgotten generation and their forgotten world war.” Supported by well-reported explorations of the social and cultural phenomena that shaped the lives of American soldiers in the First World War, Rubin’s oral histories allow a more immediate and relatable access to a conflict than even the best political or military histories do. Humanizing both the battles and their participants, The Last of the Doughboys stands out among the books published to mark the war’s centennial. It is an essential supplement for understanding the First World War.